Not that this likely will end the complaining, but President Obama announced a modification to the contraception rule today. He struck a good compromise in response to the Catholic’s objections:
Women will still get guaranteed access to birth control without co-pays or premiums no matter where they work, a provision of Obama’s health care law that he insisted must remain. But religious universities and hospitals that see contraception as an unconscionable violation of their faith can refuse to cover it, and insurance companies will then have to step in to do so.
Problem solved. Religious liberty preserved. Catholic organizations don’t have to violate their anti-contraceptive principles. The millions of women who use and need contraceptive health care are guaranteed coverage.
Of course, not everyone on the left is happy with this decision. Granted, there are good reasons to beware of empowering “conscience” objections. But a whole lot of women’s health is at stake and the main concern is they get the coverage. To put it into perspective:
Permitting Catholic hospitals to withhold contraception coverage from their 765,000 employees would blow a gaping hole in the regulation. The 629-hospital Catholic health care system is a major and respected health care provider, serving one in every six hospital patients and employing nearly 14 percent of all hospital staff in the country. Of the top 10 revenue-producing hospital systems in 2010, four were Catholic. The San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West, the fifth biggest hospital system in the country, had $11 billion in revenue last year and treated 6.2 million patients.
Furthermore, Catholic hospitals regularly merge with secular ones. Those mergers require tradeoffs between the Catholic’s refusal to provide reproductive services and the needs of the community. In fact, most of the current law already on the books requires the services be made available one way or the other. The ongoing question is how to do it.
Additionally, the argument that the religious organizations, not just hospitals but colleges and universities that are open to all receive a steady stream of federal money and thus should be subject to the same federal laws as everyone else, is a strong one. Allowing a conscience exemption is on many levels a dangerous blurring of the separation of church and state.
Surely, this is not a perfect solution and those at the extreme ends on either side have reasons to be unhappy. For myself, I’m about good outcomes. Change is difficult and incremental. This is a step in right direction. It’s a fair enough deal. So I’m okay with it.
However, this doesn’t appear to be the end of the matter. Speaker Boehner announced this afternoon that the House will be moving forward with legislation that would negate this compromise and allow any employer, not just those directly affiliated with the Catholic church, to refuse to cover contraceptive services at all. Apparently the Republican leadership believes one church should be allowed to dictate health care access for all women.